Members of a Kansas school board unanimously voted to allow student-led prayer last week at all activities throughout the entire school district, challenging the government's ban on prayer in public schools that was set in place more than 50 years ago.
Under the new motion, only students will be permitted to lead prayer during sporting games and other activities, ruling out the ability for school staff to be engaged while continuing to adhere with the 1962 Engel v. Vitale federal court ruling that still considers school-sponsored prayer unconstitutional.
School board officials in Liberal, Kan., made the decision after one member expressed his interest in bringing prayer back to local high school football games during a meeting.
"I have struggled with that, not having prayer at our activities, because it's 'not the thing to do,' but if the board thought it was important enough that they would support it, and defend it if the time came, I'd like to ask that we do that at our next meeting," said Nick Hatcher, according to Leader and Times newspaper.
Prior to casting votes on the issue, Leader and Times reports that Paul J. Larkin, superintendent of the Unified School District 480, advised board officials about the possible repercussions that could ensue if the motion passed.
"We can have student-led prayer, but if we turn away certain groups, if you have someone who wants to serve up a prayer or a thought that isn't the mainstream thinking, you're going to have a problem," said Larkin.
Larkin told The Christian Post that the 7-0 decision had yet to take effect. However, as of last week, students were able to meet at their school's pole for the See You at the Pole event, an annual student prayer gathering, protected by freedom of speech laws that takes place around schools throughout the country each September.
In the past, Liberal High School did not allow prayer over the school's intercom system, but in addition to the newly passed initiative, the board will also allow students to resume prayer through that medium.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, told The Christian Post that she disagreed with the school district's decision, saying that the board was deliberately violating Santa Fe v. Doe, a 2000 case that sparked the Supreme Court to rule against prayer through public address systems in schools because it communicated government endorsed religion while violating the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.
"Our public schools exist to educate, not to proselytize or indoctrinate," said Gaylor. "This Kansas school board is using its authority to miseducate, to teach disrespect for the law, for the Supreme Court and for our secular government and public educational system."
She added, "Religion is not determined by majority rule. It is not "democratic" to impose the religion of the majority upon the minority. The Bill of Rights itself and the First Amendment exist to protect freedom of conscience. The precedent against what is happening, using the public address system to impose so-called 'student-led' prayer, is incontrovertible."
However the deciding factor in allowing student-led prayer, according to Hatcher, was due, in part, to their mere right to do so.
"We do live in a democratic society, and I personally feel like our community would support that decision, regardless of the rest of the world," said Hatcher.